Why I'll never be a fast-track teacher

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Assessors of my performance at a Fast Track Assessment Centre decreed that I had insufficient confidence and resilience, inadequate problem-solving and analytical skills, and an inability to challenge underperformance. So I am writing this instead.

The evidence was gleaned from a series of exercises during a two-day stay at a luxurious conference centre near Dagenham. To assess eight candidates required four assessors (with backgrounds in personnel, consulting or vague, unspecified "experience of education"), a centre manager, a quality controller and four professional role-players.

The candidates left at 4pm on the second day; the assessors stayed on to spend the following morning discussing our performance. Our travel expenses were reimbursed, as had been our expenses to attend the previous assessment session (half a day of computerised testing of "personal styles", critical reasoning and analytical skills).

Our stay began with a question-and-answer session about the fast-track scheme. Unfortunately, the answers to many of our queries were not in the centre manager's crib book. So I don't know whether fast-track teachers have to return their additional bursary if they decide not to move school after the requisite two or three years.

I asked how schools felt about supporting fast-track teachers through their induction year, only to have them move on immediately to gain experience elsewhere. Apparently, fast-track teachers will make such a difference that schools would be delighted to have them for even a short period.

With the nagging feeling that a reality check might be called for, I embarked on the simulations of a fast-track teacher's experience in their first teaching post. I am not going to tell you how to pass at the assessment centre - but self-belief and self-promotion will get you a long way.

Apparently, my lack of confidence was demonstrated by sitting down to give a one-to-one presentation and thus lacking authority. I was deemed not to have challenged under-performance and not to have the ability to solve problems. Might this not rather have been seen as evidence of my team working? In both scenarios, I erroneously believed I was allowing others to fulfil their responsibilities rather than grabbing their roles for myself.

Apparently, I did show a high level of conceptual thinking - at least my doctorate in chemistry was not a fluke then. But the feedback was detailed and clear, and in the framework used, the assessors were entitled to fail me.

I do wonder what the average age of fast-trace recruits is - confidence in one's ability to solve every problem single-handedly might be less likely to have been tempered by an appreciation of what others might bring to the equation at 21 than at 41.

I still intend to train next year to teach secondary science. My inspiration is the head of the school where I have been a governor for nine years. I hope others who applied to fast-track because they want to make a difference in schools will also find the confidence and resilience to persevere with their vocation.

When fast-track candidates are told they are not successful they are immediately asked whether they have been put off teaching as a career.

Might those responsible for Fast Track be anxious that a scheme designed to attract high-flyers could actually demotivate more potential teachers than it recruits? There must be cheaper ways of doing that.

Viv Ellis advises...

You sound to me like an excellent prospect. Take advantage of everything the Institute has to offer while being free of the extra work fast-track involves and then, if still keen, apply to do the Institute's MTeach, a post-qualification course tailored to the NQT year. The course itself and the networking involved will be just as good as fast-track. Of course, you won't get the extra bursary or the laptop.

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